…’I am going to my Father’s, and though with great difficulty
I got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me
in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battle, who now will be “my rewarder”’.
-John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
With the image of the Nigerian judiciary presently assailed by charges of widespread corruption and mediocrity, highlighted by the latest report of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission [ICPC] that the monetary volume of judicial corruption was almost ten billion naira over the past three years, it is always necessary to watch out for the dangers of the single story; the narrative of an entirely corrupt and useless judiciary. The numbers have undoubtedly varied over the years and different eras, but there are and always have been good judges in Nigeria.
One name that is certain to be counted amongst the good judges was the Honourable Justice Dolapo Akinsanya. Indeed she was the quintessential judge for most of the lawyers who appeared before her; knowledgeable, extremely courteous and affable, yet tolerating no nonsense and of unquestionable integrity. It is therefore understandable that the Nigerian legal community felt a profound loss by her death in late 2020.
My first encounter with Justice Akinsanya was not in person but through the law reports on reading the celebrated case of Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu where, as the Lagos State Director of civil litigation and lead counsel for Lagos State Government, she squared up to the legendary Chief Rotimi Williams who
was Chief Ojukwu’s lead counsel. At the time of that litigation, the mid 80s, you still would not be surprised finding in the ministries of justice lawyers talented and competent enough not to be out of their depth when pitted against the top dogs of the private bar. Justice Akinsanya was elevated to the Bench of the High Court of Lagos State within three years of her prominent role in that case and I then had the privilege of appearing before her for the first time in the early 90s as a very young lawyer.
I remember so very well my initial exchanges with Justice Akinsanya as I made to make my motion which was a very contentious one. She gave me the hint, in a rather favourite-auntie nice manner, that I was swimming against a very strong tide with my motion, citing off the cuff a then recent Supreme Court decision which appeared to be firmly against the essence of my motion. I then promptly suggested that it would be useless continuing with the motion since the court’s mind was already made up against it. The practice of frontloading written argument on motions was yet to be introduced and Justice Akinsanya encouraged me to nevertheless go ahead with my argument as I could well convince her to my position; pointing out that she was only guiding me towards concentrating on what she conceived as main issue for me, and which was to try distinguishing the facts of my case from the apparent guiding authority she had earlier mentioned.
In the event I could not persuade her and she dismissed my motion, but I came away highly impressed. The incisive questions she asked as I argued my motion made it clear she perfectly followed the argument and that she was on first name terms, so to speak, with the relevant law and procedure. My experience on representing a young lady in a divorce matter before her less than two years later strengthened her reputation in my eyes. The counsel for the husband was a tricky